Sue Cischke, 56
Group Vice President, Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering, Ford Motor Co.
Why did you want to work in the auto industry? Growing up in the Detroit area, there's just an excitement about the auto industry. My dad was in the sales side of the business. An uncle was involved in selling cars as well. My aunt and uncle worked at Ford as engineers. So I think there was just a natural attraction. I mean, this is really the buzz of what happens in this city.
When I was going to school as an engineer, I was lucky to have two summer jobs working for Chrysler. I actually did a stint at Chrysler Defense as well, and that gave me a real clear idea that I liked the automotive side better. It's just the idea that you could apply what you're doing in engineering into some exciting product that you see and touch and feel and drive. It's exciting.
First automotive job: I hired into Chrysler in 1978 in the institute of engineering. I had eight rotational assignments in a two-year period while I was going for my master's in mechanical engineering. My first job was in a product-planning type group. Right out of school, you think you're going to do everything. One of my first assignments was I would cut out a signature and rubber cement it on page after page of program descriptions. I thought: "Are you kidding me? I spent all these years in school and I'm rubber-cementing?" We would never do that nowadays, but I'm sure there are equivalent jobs of hell that are in computer areas. But my first job did give me an overview of how all these areas are managed.
Proudest professional achievement: I really think that when you change companies, when you've grown up in one company and the culture, and you switch over to another company, to be recognized as a contributor and to really become part of that other team was a proud accomplishment for me. I came [to Ford] right in the middle of Firestone [tire/rollover crisis] and immediately had to take on that responsibility and gain the trust and the working relationships of the whole team.
Current challenge at work: We're not a staff job or a side job. We're really integrated into the company on safety strategy and environmental strategy. Most people's eyes glaze over when you talk about the regulations. My job is to make sure that we influence the regulations and that we implement them and that our vehicles perform in the field.
Why does the auto industry seem like a difficult environment for female executives? This is a very technical business. For me, having the engineering background has been really a key part of my job. I think that there are fewer women in engineering in general. Over the years, it's gone up a bit and down a bit, but it's around a 20 percent number of women in engineering schools today. That's one aspect of it, that it is male-dominated because of the technical aspect of it. But we're seeing a lot more women's influence. When you stop to think that 80 percent of the buying decisions are influenced by women, either they're buying themselves or they're influencing another choice, the better representation we have of women at all levels of the company, the closer that matches our customer. I think that's being recognized.
Dream job: I think I have my dream job. I interface every day with Alan Mulally and with Bill Ford, two great leaders who both have very much on the front of their thought process what we need to do for the environment and for safety.
On possibilities: Very early in my career, when I was a young engineer, I was at an event with a chief engineer. He was trying to show how progressive his thinking was, and he said to me, "Sue, I think one day a woman could be the head of a plant, probably a trim plant so that she could tell whether the seams were straight." I remember my boss at the time was literally kicking me under the table, like "Don't say anything, don't say anything," because I was pretty outspoken. That was funny. He [the chief engineer] thought that was progressive, which was pretty sad. My boss was like, "Just shut up."
What you do to relax: I like to golf. I love to travel. I have one niece and five nephews, and I like to keep up with what they're doing. So I do a lot of that traveling, as well as world traveling.
-- Dave Guilford